The Pearson train is leaving the station, This Is Us faithful, and we’re ready to walk on through to the caboose right along with you.
So let’s get it all underway. Read on for a recap of the final season premiere, “The Challenger.”
A NATIONAL TRAGEDY | During a flashback to the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, Rebecca and Jack bustle about the kitchen, getting ready for the day ahead. “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” plays on the radio, which prompts Jack to croon the song to his wife and proclaim “REO Speedwagon are the new Beatles.” (Ha!) They smooch a bit, and it’s sweet to see Mom and Dad get a little hot over the Toaster Strudel or whatever, but then the kids come in and breakfast is the top priority.
Rebecca has mixed up a pitcher of Tang in honor of the momentous occasion on deck for later that day: the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. Before Jack leaves for work, he asks the kids to watch the liftoff closely, because he wants to hear about “every detail” later. Say it with me, because unfortunately we all know where this is going: Oof.
Later, as The Big Three sit in their elementary school classroom with their teacher and classmates, they watch the space craft explode soon after launch. Naturally, the tragedy leaves its mark on the Pearson kids. Randall worries that the children of schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, who was onboard, won’t have anyone to make them dinner that night. Kate talks about her teachers crying. And Kevin tells Jack he’s not worried, because the explosion was on TV and therefore it wasn’t real. That night, after bedtime, Kevin and Kate sadly realize that their parents will one day die, too.
JUSTICE IS SERVED? | In the present, after a few flashbacks to scenes from the series’ premiere, we wind up on Kate, Randall and Kevin’s 41st birthday. Right before Beth, Déja, Tess and Annie bring him pancakes in bed, Randall gets an email from the police saying that they’ve arrested the man who broke into his house in Season 4. And weirdly, the man still has Randall and Beth’s wedding photo on him.
The burgler pawned all of their jewelry, Randall later tells Beth, and he’s being arraigned that day. Randall wants to go and face him, to make the man understand what havoc he wreaked in their family and on Randall’s mental health. But Beth thinks he should let it go, telling him he’s got two doors to choose from. She’s behind Door Number 1, and willing to grant any wish “like a less problematic Aladdin genie,” she purrs. But soon she realizes: “You’re going to pick Door Number 2, aren’t you?” Indeed, he is. Grumbling to herself as she goes upstairs, Beth catches her reflection in the mirror. “Damn,” she says, “I would’ve chosen Door Number Beth.” (Side note: I’ll say it again and always — Susan Kelechi Watson is a damn treasure.)
In the hallway at the courthouse, Randall confronts David Watkins, aka the man who robbed him. “You’re the guy from my picture,” David says, and it soon becomes clear that he’s got some mental-health issues. “I have holes in my memory,” he explains, adding that he doesn’t remember breaking into the city councilman’s home. “I didn’t know where I got that picture from, but you looked happy in it. I thought maybe it came from a good part of my life, but I guess it came from a bad part,” he says. So of COURSE Randall bails the man out and arranges to meet him at a shelter that evening, where Randall has secured him a bed.
“It felt like a romantic, full-circle thing,” Randall tells Beth, who’s shocked-but-not-really at her husband’s goodness. He says he was moved after seeing David’s file and realizing that any of the addicts he’s known — William, his father, Kevin — could’ve been in a similar situation if circumstances had been different. He laments that he’s not doing enough for his constituents who struggle with addiction. And Beth is so moved that she gives him another shot at Door Number Beth. All the vices men can have these days, she muses, “and my guy just wants to help people.”
Later that night, David doesn’t show at the shelter. When he returns home, Randall grumps that he’s officially old. Beth gives him cufflinks to replace the ones that were stolen, and Randall says again that he needs to do more to help the people of Philadelphia.
THEY’RE REBOOTING EVERYTHING THESE DAYS | Next we go to California, where Kevin has been living in Madison’s garage while they co-parent their twins Nick and Franny. And it seems to be going OK! Meanwhile Kate is kinda single-parenting Hailey and Jack while Toby works in San Francisco. For Kate’s gift, Tobes arranges an in-house massage and a day free of the kids (Nicky, Rebecca and Miguel will babysit), but things still feel ever so slightly off between Mr. and Mrs. Damon.
After the massage, Kate gets a message from Phillip that there’s an emergency at school. She arrives just in time to overhear his girlfriend, Jessica, railing at him. “Don’t you dare use your traumatic past” to get out of our relationship, she tells him, but he counters that she bores him and that eating dinner with her is like watching paint dry. “Is that helpful for moving on?” he wonders. Ouch! Anyway, after Jessica stomps out, Philip reveals that the “emergency” is really that the kids wanted to sing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” for Kate for her birthday. Kate cries, touched. Philip watches her. Knowing what we know about their future, he’s clearly Thinking Things and maybe even Feeling Things, too.
Elsewhere, Kevin attends a meeting that he thinks is about a potential movie job but which actually is with Casey, the producer he clashed with on The Manny set. Guess what? They’re going to reboot Kev’s old sitcom. Kevin scoffs at the idea of returning to his former, very shirtless role. “No, you’re far too old,” Casey says quickly (ha!). “You’d play the dad. A dad to twins, ironically.” It’s not like Casey really wants to work with Kevin again, but “I know what’s out there for you,” he says. “This is good. You get to raise your family in Los Angeles. Work one day a week and become a zillionaire. Or say no, and spend the rest of your career traveling to Vancouver every weekend, where you shoot Treat Williams indies where you’ve gotta do your own hair.”
Kevin is unmoved. “Over my dead body,” he says. “Thank God,” Casey sighs.
REBECCA’S REVELATION | While spending the day with Jack and Hailey, Rebecca remembers riding the train to work with her dad on occasion when she was a little girl. She recalls walking the length of the train with him, but the memory is marred when she can’t bring to mind the word “caboose.” She tries all day, but gets increasingly frustrated when the word just won’t come. She winds up shouting about it, out of the blue, during a family party for The Big Three (with Randall & Co. videoconferenced in). And that’s when she reveals that a recent scan of her brain showed plaques building in her brain, a sure sign that her mental decline is advancing.
Kevin brings the kids home, expecting to decompress with Madison. But she’s hanging out with a male member of her fantasy-fiction book club, Eli, who certainly seems to like her — and that bothers Kevin a bit. They realize that maybe Kev’s living in the garage isn’t the good idea they thought it was; he winds up crashing at Kate’s.
“Mom’s really sick, Kate. It’s really happening,” he says, announcing that he’s going to take the Manny reboot, after all, to provide stability for his kids. He gets angry that the world gets to continue as usual even though their lives are about to be ripped apart by Rebecca’s illness, but she reminds him that they had some low times five years ago — aka at the start of the series — and a lot of good has come out of the intervening time. “If the world stopped for the bad stuff, then everything would be dark,” she reasons. “But the world keeps going so we can find that crack of light on the other side of the door, you know? We have found the light before, big brother, and we’ll find it again.” He’s almost crying. She’s almost crying. They hug. It’s sweet. Then Toby comes home, surprising Kate, who didn’t expect him back that night. “Happy birthday,” he says. “It is now,” she replies.
And over at Rebecca and Miguel’s, Rebecca is so fed-up with Nicky moaning about how he can’t bring himself to contact Sally — whom he’s found on Facebook and who lives a few hours away — that she tells him they’ll leave in the morning if he wants to reconnect with his lost love. Miguel’s like, really? “Life is too short, and the man is giving me a friggin’ headache,” Rebecca grouses.
At bedtime, Rebecca finally remembers the word “caboose.” She says it aloud a few times, sagging against Miguel in relief and sadness.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the premiere? Grade it via the poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!